‘If you liked it, tell someone!’ demands the banner that is hung on stage following the performance of Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of), and that is exactly what I’m here to do.
Isobel McArthur adapts the beloved novel by Jane Austen, and this fabulous production comes direct from the West End straight to Salford, arriving at The Lowry’s Lyric Theatre. While still remaining faithful to the original narrative, this retelling is demonstrated by the servants of the featured families, rather than through the five Bennet daughters and their male counterparts, and is an absolute force to be reckoned with.
Welcoming the audience to their seats are the servants dressed in white nightgowns, bright yellow Marigolds and black Doctor Martens, they dust, clean, and query the patrons around them.
The chime of a bell interrupts their interrupting, and they convene together on stage for the commencement of the show!
The five servants – all female – introduce themselves and set the scene: often invisible, unnoticed, overlooked, and forgotten, these ladies congregate all the gossip they overhear upon fulfilling their duties, and with this collective insight, can roleplay the goings-on of the Bennet family, leaving out the politeness and manners established within the romance novel and instead using coarse language with sharpness and effect.
This rehashing features karaoke-like integration of songs such as Everyday I Write The Book, You’re So Vain, Holding Out for a Hero, and Lady in Red which give a refreshing realness to the servants having fun telling this story.
The key dilemma remains, with no brother, the Bennet daughters need to marry so that when Mr. Bennet dies, they don’t lose their home, possessions, and money, as in the 1800’s women were not allowed to inherit anything, they needed husbands to inherit it for them.
Being without a husband would leave them destitute, including their mother, so Mrs. Bennet will marry her daughters off to just about anyone to prevent this happening. From this we see the famous enemies to lovers storyline roll out between Elizabeth and Darcy.
The performance of each cast member is outstanding. Lucy Gray, Dannie Harris, Leah Jamieson, Emmy Stonelake, and Megan Louise Wilson keep up with the high demands of multi-rolling with song and dance thrown in there as well.
The impressively speedy quick changes are crucial to recognising the different characters present on stage and are brilliantly done, keeping the flow of the storytelling flawless and alive.
Stonelake takes on the heroine Elizabeth role, and delivers songs fantastically, really showing her talent while also playing up to her Welsh accent, which the audience get a kick out of.
Gray has many roles; Tilly the servant, Mr. Bingley, Miss Caroline Bingley, and Charlotte Lucas, the latter of which is presented from a new angle, that she is in love with, or at least crushing on, Elizabeth.
Outside of her servant role, Harris portrays the hilarious hypochondriac Mrs. Bennet and the self-important, subdued Mr. Darcy brilliantly, while Jamieson gives us Mary and Lydia Bennet, Mr. Collins, and Mrs. Gardiner, potentially the funniest and most absurd characters of the lot!
Last but not least, Wilson portrays Jane Bennet, Mr. Wickham, and Lady Catherine, who dons a ludicrous costume of red magenta, oversized bonnet, dress, and cane.
Wilson’s characterisation of her is just as daft, but so well done. Genuinely this is an immensely talented cast, at times it is hard to believe there are only five of them putting on the show!
The light-heartedness is maintained by modern day props, which get a giggle out of the audience when they recognise them. The town ball buffet spread features towering cans of Irn Bru, scotch eggs, with offerings of Wagon Wheels, and 15-year-old Lydia getting drunk off a bottle of blue WKD.
When Christmas rolls around (evident from the decorated tree and wreath wrapped around the stairs banister) Mrs. Bennet nurses her upset with a tipple of Baileys and a tin of Quality Streets.
The use of lighting is cleverly done, made to look like the changes happen at the click of a servant’s finger, Colin Grenfell (lighting director) and the cast are very well rehearsed and make the transitions seamlessly.
There’s a nod to Austin in the props when Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham take a break from the dance floor to chat, heading outside to light up a cigarette by the bins, aptly labelled ‘Jane Aust-bin’, and of course, servants burst out of said bin encouraging the story along with their musical accompaniment.
There are lots of audience interactions. Following the chaotic eruption at the Bingley ball, the servants seem to snap back into reality, looking to the audience and explaining they got carried away and needed fifteen minutes to clean up, and that we best go and get a drink while we wait, giving us our cue for the interval.
In act two, the audience are made guests at Mr. Darcy’s party and Harris as Darcy interacts and asks questions to show his well-mannered, gentleman friendliness.
The cast use the auditorium space very effectively, with Gray as Mr. Bingley running down the aisle calling Jane’s name, causing confusion and chuckles from the crowd when they realise where he is.
This piece of theatre is an homage to the original source, you can feel the adoration of the original Pride and Prejudice come through which positions it as something of a fan tribute to a beloved novel – you can tell the source material meant a lot to the creators.
In my opinion, this is a must see. Whether you are familiar with Austen’s work or not (I wasn’t) there is joy to be had as a spectator of this well-crafted and fabulously funny theatre, it tells the same story, has a nineteenth century setting (kind of) but with the characters reacting the way a modern audience would react now.
Pride & Prejudice* (sort of) is being performed at The Lowry, Salford, every evening until Saturday 21st January, with a Saturday matinee, and an audio described performance by Caroline Burn on Friday 20th January. Prices start at just £16 and can be purchased here. The overall performance runs just over two and a half hours, with the first act lasting approximately sixty-six minutes, the second about sixty-nine minutes, with a twenty-minute interval. The production features haze, gun shots, sharp bursts of light, and strong language. Don’t miss your chance to be a part of this!